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It took four of them to haul us into the station. Through one set of bars we could see a couple dogs humping each other on a dirty snow bank. Out the other, we looked into the precinct command center, a cramped hole wrapped in the culture of bribes and the settled stink of old cutlets. There had been a war here not long ago, a real war with gang rape and punitive amputation, and these guys were of the age and inclination to know something about that. It was only a matter of time before they started asking us about the weapons.
He tugged a pistol off his hip and started shoving slugs into the clip. The cops flipped on the toy siren anyway, as they do it on the Mob shows out of Moscow, and the noise began moaning over all our doubts. They had grabbed us a half-mile from the border. This we knew for sure. Facts are slippery in the obscure Communist-Mafia outpost known as Transdniester, evasion being something of a native birthright. Certainly, there were a few inescapable specifics. It was also known as a back-alley bazaar of prostitution, money-laundering, and Soviet-octane graft, a bastard son of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, which last month reelected a Communist-dominated parliament.
Add in plenty of leftovers from the Soviet Army and a riddle takes shape for the anti-proliferation folks. A visit to Transdniester—a rare thing, indeed—is a trip to some hopeless Soviet winter, circa Transdniester has existed for 14 years. And yet no country in the world recognizes its claim to independence. Something will have to give, since the E. But the neighborhood is changing. Georgia also went the way of the West a year before that.
Especially in Moldova, where the rogue state is on the mind from waking till sleeping. Communist president Vladimir Voronin, who despises Transdniester and its backers in Moscow, recently accused Russia of plotting to assassinate him before the parliamentary election in March. So it was difficult to take President Igor Smirnov seriously, as much for this line as for the cottontail eyebrows that always undercut any point he tried to make.
At Rybnitsa, we watched as electrodes dipped into the carrot-colored furnace of bubbling steel, the crash and shock like the sound of great Soviet power, great Soviet terror. He pointed at it and mouthed the code words of the only political argument that really mattered anymore. When all people have gone through a fratricidal war because of nationalists, such people understand best the price of a peaceful life.